By JAMES TABABA
The National Hog Convention and Trade Exhibit began with a promising start as global food and agriculture company Cargill presented the Animal Nutrition Summit, aimed at fostering knowledge and technology transfer for optimal farm production and better profitability.
On April 26, 2023, Sonny Catacutan, Country President of Cargill Philippines, Alfred Ng, Vice Chair of the National Federation of Hog Farmers, Rolando Tambago, President of the Pork Producers Federations of the Philippines, and Dr. Ruth Miclat Sonaco, Director of the National Livestock Program – Department of Agriculture, led a roundtable discussion at the Solaire Resort and Casino to delve deeper into the local swine market and the importance of a holistic approach to solving industry challenges. The discussion focused on new findings, approaches, and perspectives in the swine industry, which can help commercial farms optimize livestock production.
Alfred Ng, Vice Chair of the National Federation of Hog Farmers spoke about the continued challenges faced by the industry due to the ongoing outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) in the Philippines.
Ng began by recalling the initial panic that set in when ASF first appeared in the country in 2019. He noted that many farmers began depopulating and selling out their pigs, which led to a cycle of transmission and infection in the Luzon region.
Ng then highlighted the unique situation faced by the Philippines, as it is the only country to have experienced ASF and COVID-19 outbreaks simultaneously. This made it even harder for both private sector and government authorities to manage and control the spread of the virus.
Years later, ASF still continues to hold the industry back, with even previously designated green zones now getting infected. Ng lamented the difficulty of identifying where the infection is coming from, although the industry suspects that the lack of a proper border control facility may be a major source of the problem. Illegal smuggling and direct channels through frozen ports could be causing ASF to enter the country undetected.
Despite the challenges, the hog industry remains resilient, with farmers and industry stakeholders determined to concentrate on biosecurity measures. Ng emphasized the need to educate all farmers and industry players, including backyard farmers, on best practices to prevent and manage ASF outbreaks.
“We wanted to educate our farmers and we wanted to educate our members, non-members, even backyard farmers, to practice biosecurity. I think that’s the only way that we can move forward and modernize our farming techniques and become more efficient, more productive and sustainable,” Ng said.
Ng expressed that farmers, particularly members of their federation, are hesitant to repopulate their hog farms due to the high cost of investment and the imminent threat of African Swine Fever. He explained that the cost of building renovations and modernization, such as tunnel ventilation, has increased, along with additional costs for cleaning and disinfection. The cost of repopulation has also gone up, from around 20,000 pesos per breeder to 35,000 pesos. Ng also mentioned that the cost of feeds has increased, with corn going up to 25 pesos from the previous 14 pesos.
Despite higher farm gate prices, Ng explained that the investment risks for some farmers are too high compared to the returns. To encourage members to start repopulation, the federation is sharing success stories of those who have already repopulated, such as Ng’s own farm that was hit by ASF in 2020 and successfully restarted in March 2021. They are also sharing good practices in biosecurity with allied industry partners, such as veterinary companies, feed mills, and passing companies.
Ng emphasized that biosecurity is a total system, including building retrofits, infection control, and employee education. He mentioned that some farms that repopulated experienced reinfection due to loopholes in their biosecurity system. To address this, Ng urged companies to continuously share good practices and conduct trainings with employees.
Regarding the government’s INSPIRE (Integrated National Swine Initiatives for Recovery and Expansion) program, Ng noted that it is a sound program, but its weakness is that it centers on piglets or grow-outs, not breeders, which is the true essence of repopulation. He suggested that the budget should be used to purchase breeders instead of construction. He shared that since the program was opened for commercial farms, their federation applied for a CSO accreditation and was given 35 slots.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is determined to revive the swine industry through its repopulation program and in collaboration with the private sector, according to Dr. Ruth Miclat Sonaco, Director of the National Livestock Program – Department of Agriculture. This repopulation program is a part of the Bantay ASF sa Barangay program, which aims to protect and safeguard local swine farms from African Swine Fever.
In the latest Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, the inventory and production of swine have increased since the second quarter of 2022, after experiencing negative growth for the past two and a half to three years. Although the growth rate is only around 1 to 3 percent, it is still considered a positive development for the industry.
With these positive developments, the DA is optimistic about the swine industry’s recovery in the next one to two years. Dr. Sonaco emphasized the importance of optimism, especially from the government, to push forward the swine repopulation program amid the challenges posed by ASF.
Dr. Sonaco emphasized the importance of biosecurity facilities in the recovery and expansion of the hog industry. She mentioned the INSPIRE program, which stands for integrated national swine initiatives for recovery and expansion, as the government’s initiative to help farmers build biosecure facilities.
Dr. Sonaco also said that the ASF outbreak may have caused significant damage to the hog industry in the Philippines, but it has also given the industry the opportunity to reboot and modernize.
The President of the Pork Producers Federations of the Philippines, Rolando Tambago, highlighted the challenges that the hog industry has been facing for the past three years due to the African Swine Fever outbreak. He noted that the industry has been struggling to meet its needs as a result of the significant reduction in the swine population.
Tambago estimated that at least 5 million swine inventory had been removed, not only due to the actual infection but also because of the fear of being infected. He emphasized that the impact of the reduced population is a considerable loss of investment from all levels of farming, which he estimated to be around 100 billion pesos.
However, Tambago remains optimistic that the industry can still recover, especially with the government’s repopulation program. He encouraged farmers and industry players to use modern technologies in farming, particularly in modern genetics, new technology facilities, biosecurity, and health management, which he referred to as the five pillars of pig production.
Tambago also called on the private sector to lead the way in the industry’s modernization, emphasizing that modern farming is the way to bring back the glory of the hog industry. He urged industry partners to collaborate and work together, along with government support, in providing information and resources for all players to apply the five pillars of pig production.
Tambago stressed the need to educate all industry players on the importance of modernization and urged small-scale farmers to consider the use of new genetics and modern farming practices. He believes that this collaborative effort between the private sector and government is the way forward to ensure the recovery of the hog industry and its competitiveness in the global market.
Sonny Catacutan, Country President of Cargill Philippines and managing director for Cargill’s animal nutrition business in the Philippines, highlighted the company’s role as a connector between industry partners, including the government, customers, consumers, and producers.
“At the heart of Cargill’s efforts is the goal to help farmers thrive amidst challenges like ASF. We empower Filipino farmers with tailored solutions and knowledge to raise pigs because healthy animals perform better,” said Catacutan. “It is our belief that the nutrition provided to animals during the early stages of their life significantly impacts their health, growth, and viability. As a growth partner, we are committed to enabling farmers and providing them with the tools to get the foundation right to improve animal well-being and farm productivity.”